Climate and the evolution of group-living behaviour in the armadillo lizard (Ouroborus cataphractus)

Published in: African Zoology
Volume 48, issue 2, 2013 , pages: 367–373
DOI: 10.1080/15627020.2013.11407604
Author(s): Cindy ShuttleworthDepartment of Botany and Zoology, South Africa, P. le Fras N. MoutonDepartment of Botany and Zoology, South Africa, Adriaan van NiekerkDepartment of Geography and Environmental Studies, South Africa


We evaluated the hypothesis that the regular use of the southern harvester termite, Microhodotermes viator, as food source by the armadillo lizard, Ouroborus cataphractus, originated as an adaptation to survive the summer dry season in a climatic regime where rainfall is highly seasonal. To do so, we determined the most important climatic predictors of the geographical range of this species. Climatic data were obtained for 130 localities where O. cataphractus is known to occur and 168 adjacent localities where it is known to be absent. For each locality, data for 10 climatic variables were extracted from the South African Atlas of Agrohydrology and Climatology database. We constructed a forward stepwise logistic regression model of the probability of O. cataphractus occurrence, based on the set of 10 climatic variables. The best model included, in order of importance, average monthly summer rainfall, mean annual precipitation, average monthly solar radiation, and the ratio of winter rainfall over summer rainfall as most significant predictors. The selected model predicted 88.80% of the presences correctly and 85.52% of the absences. In essence, O. cataphractus is restricted to the winter rainfall zone of South Africa, excluding the high-rainfall southwestern section. We postulate that the highly predictable seasonal rainfall and the ameliorating effect of the Atlantic Ocean on climates in the Namaqualand region, in particular, have provided a unique selective regime for the origin of group-living in O. cataphractus. Dependence on M. viator as food source developed to survive the summer-autumn period of low food availability and resulted in the evolution of heavy armour and group-living behaviour. The moderate winters and early spring temperatures allowed full capitalization on high arthropod abundance during winter–spring, thereby overriding the negative impacts of armour and group-living on foraging efficiency at the home crevice.

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